The most likely places to find bushytails in the fall.
Early autumn in the squirrel woods is a time of change. Cool air filters in from the north to present more tolerable daytime temperatures. Leaves of deciduous trees begin turning to their orange, red and yellow colors. And acorns from oaks crash to the ground with squirrels on the ready for a yummy snack.
There is probably no better time to be in the woods hunting than during the fall months. With deer season just a calendar page away, squirrel hunting can be a precursor of things to come. Chasing bushytails over hill and hollow will help hunters sharpen up on their stalking and shooting skills.
While squirrels are abundant all across the state and most woodlots hold good populations, Mr. Bushytail does have some favorite spots to hide out in the early fall. With a little scouting and woodsmanship, squirrel hunters can fill out a limit in no time.
Keep it soft and quiet
With their lofty perches along with sharp ears and keen eyesight, not much gets by squirrels in their neck of the woods. Hunters entering the woods should approach with stealth to minimize detection from the bushytail residents. A soft step with a varied cadence can throw a squirrel off its game.
“I walk through the woods for squirrels like I do when deer hunting,” mentions Brad Stone of Munford, Ala. “Sometimes a short shuffle or odd steps will sound like a four legged animal.”
The smoother approach allows Stone to get closer in on the squirrels. He keeps his eyes and ears open, stopping periodically to scan the forest floor and the treetops for grey-furred limb dwellers. Squirrels can be cutting out some clusters of nuts and shaking leaves. With a quiet approach, hunters can key in on the specific sounds.
Full camouflage is another key serious squirrel hunters should employ. Soft outerwear will minimize scrubbing sounds when hunters make contact with brush or trees. Hat and gloves are also part of the camo system to avoid the sharp eyes of a squirrel.
“A good pair of hunting boots will be more comfortable,” comments Stone. “With the right boots you can feel any twig underfoot and make quieter steps.”
Acorns are the prime food source for squirrels in the fall. Find a batch of oak or hickory trees with nuts and the squirrels will be there, too. Not all oaks will produce acorns every year and some locations may have a better crop than others. Hunters should put down a little boot leather in their hunting area to locate the section with the best acorn producers.
“I will usually start looking for acorns in big hollows with a small creek,” advises Jim Morris of Weaver, Ala. “Oak trees near the creek will usually have some acorns.”
White oaks and red oaks are probably the most common acorn trees around. These trees are the one Morris checks out first. The tree doesn’t have to be adjacent to the creek. Larger trees along the bottom of the hollow will generally have a few acorns even during bad years. With a majority of the state feeling the effects of the drought from this past summer, creek drainages and low, flat bottoms would be a good bet to start your search.
Morris and Stone look for clusters of acorn-producing trees in the squirrel woods. With several oaks close together in a tight area, squirrels will make the trek to find the nuts. Look for sections where hollows or small creeks converge for clusters of nut trees. Find a few oaks in the middle of a pine forest and a limit of squirrels should not be a problem.
A tactic Morris sometimes uses is wading in the creek. The water will allow for a super-silent stalk into squirrel country. Even if the creek has dry spots, there is usually soft sand or dirt that will allow the hunter a stealthy approach.
Squirrel hunters should not overlook old homestead locations in the woods or around field edges. Some of these spots usually have some large oaks and maybe a few old pecan trees. Savvy squirrel chasers may be able to obtain permission to hunt some pecan orchards to assist the owner in eradicating nut-stealing squirrels.
Weapons for nutty critters
Mention squirrel hunting and most folks will reach for their trusty .22 rifle topped with quality scope. While sharpshooting .22s are a good choice, squirrel hunters might fare better with a small bore scatter gun. The pea-size rifle is perfect for long, open shots for squirrels on the ground or when the bushytails head for outer space in the top of an 80-foot-tall oak.
Full choke shotgun in 20 gauge or .410 would be the choice for squirrels when the trees are still holding on to their coat of leaves. Branches with leaves can obscure enough of the squirrel to prevent an effective shot with a .22. However, a shotgun loaded with some high brass #6 shot should bring the bushytail down to the game bag.
A squirrel-hunting duo may opt for one hunter toting a .22 and the other a shotgun. The setup gives the hunters an option whether a squirrel is frozen on a limb or makes a dash up the tree. Shotgun shooters usually get in some good practice when the squirrels begin to dance in the treetops.
“When we started out squirrel hunting as teenagers, I would carry a .22 and my brother a shotgun,” Stone says. “During the hunt we would swap up guns with each other.”
Stone now prefers a .22 mag for his squirrel hunts. He can take a longer shot and add a little more challenge to his squirrel hunts.
Stone says this helps his shooting accuracy when he picks up his deer rifle. Shotgunners will want to use heavy field or high-power shotshells with #6 or #5 shot. Even if some pellets are blocked by leaves, it takes only a few to make a hit to bring down a squirrel.
These squirrel hunters offer a few final tips for early fall hunters and that is to take along some bottled water or soft drinks for those warmer fall days. Also, hunters may want to field dress their squirrels to prevent spoiling if the weather is warm. A small pack with some zipper lock plastic bags will hold several field-dressed squirrels.
A limit of squirrels is not automatic in the fall. These tree dwellers are sharp and know their way around in their home woods. But hunters with a little patience and the proper weapon will be ready when the squirrels go nuts.